Our thoughts are not facts, but they still shape our perception of the world. All people have some underlying and relatively stable perceptions of themselves and the world around them, which can be referred to as cognitive schemas. Cognitive schemas can be understood as core beliefs or ‘rules of living’ that help you navigate the outside world.
We form our cognitive schemas early in life and they act as mental filters that quickly enable us to understand the world around us and our experiences. Your cognitive schemas can both be positive or negative. If you have anxiety, negative schemas that relate to an experience of danger will generally be activated quicker and more often, than they would for others.
Negative Automatic Thoughts
The cognitive schemas and core assumptions are characterized by being solid, rigid, and general. They are also not easily accessible to our consciousness, making them difficult to notice and change. But they are always in the back of our heads, and affect how we interpret our experiences. Negative automatic thoughts, on the other hand, arise in concrete situations. Negative automatic thoughts are also more “superficial” and therefore much easier to influence.
The cognitive triad
When you have anxiety, you are especially affected by negative core beliefs about yourself, the world or others and the future. These core beliefs are called the cognitive triad, and an example is: I am incompetent, others are hostile, and the future is dark.
When you have these negative core beliefs, it means that everything you experience will be interpreted based on them. Therefore, you may also find that there is never anything that disproves these core perceptions because even neutral or positive experiences will be interpreted negatively.